By Redentor Lagrimas Lebantino
There may be spoilers.
After more than two years of absence in physical cinemas, Star Cinema comes back with An Inconvenient Love, a film affirming the production outfit’s reputation in the romance-comedy genre. With Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano (collectively known as DonBelle) starring in their third major project, the result is a pleasant addition to Star Cinema’s roster of memorable romcoms.
The film opens with Manny (Donny Pangilinan) distributing drinking water to rallyists delivering an outcry against labor abuse, and Ayef (Belle Mariano) going through the inconvenience of daily commute to work. Their meet-cute brims with the undeniable attraction of cinema, in a sequence sharply directed by Petersen Vargas and stunningly lensed by Noel Teehankee.
Ayef and Manny arrive at an opportune moment of romcom bliss, effortlessly exuding the magic of youthful connection. The scene aptly introduces them as our ‘ship’, two young people we will root for ‘til the end.
Love in a belabored milieu
Ayef works at a convenience store while she waits for an internship opportunity in Singapore. She dreams of becoming a successful animator and while she remains hopeful, she is not alienated to the struggles of the daily wage earners like herself. She is not bitter at love, but she neither carelessly succumbs to it. In fact, she manages to experience it while staying committed to her dreams.
Coming from the upper level of social hierarchy, Manny lives with his eyes wide open to his privilege. His conflict with his capitalist father is born from such awareness. He commits to making it on his own while he supports the laborers who suffer from his father’s labor exploitation.
In DonBelle’s digital film Love is Colorblind which was an online hit last year, love is challenged by the characters’ unresolved pasts, especially for Ino (Pangilinan). It causes the struggle to fully express his love for his best friend Cara (Mariano) whose personal ambitions are never a threat to her enduring love for him. They are lovers dealing with the scars in their history.
In An Inconvenient Love, they are nowhere but in the now—in the economically-challenged world where love is not always sweeter than it is in the stolen moments of their togetherness. Ayef as a contractual worker knows this very well, even when she opens herself a little more and lets Manny in her world. Her shield against heartbreak: a contract.
When a romcom is premised in the real world, the challenge is not to take the lovers out of it. It’s a lazy convenience to do so, and the best option is to make love thrive right in the inconvenience of reality. Vargas created an appealingly-plausible visual of such reality, allowing the audience to see through Ayef and Manny and go past the fantasy of sugar-coated romance.
Belle Mariano and Donny Pangilinan shine in their approximated positivity, their take on their roles reflecting their generation—young but driven, vulnerable but committed to personal ambitions.
The script of Daisy Cayanan and Joaquin Enrico Santos puts premium on the characters’ authenticity. It is not a sin to see Ayef and Manny give in to the allure of romance, only to be eventually challenged by the burden of domestic complications and relational chaos among family members. The setting of an expiration date to their relationship is nothing but a security blanket shattered by their deepening emotions. The end is never determined by a contract, but by the toughness of conditions in which the lovers move around.
Memorable and convenient
Are the real-world issues too big for the film’s background? Maybe. The criticism on them—labor issues and the inclusion of Dobs (JC Alcantara) as a character in the autism spectrum—being left unresolved or not discussed more deeply may be valid, but their bigness can be the same reason they are not tackled further. How can issues as big as these be resolved in a romcom? It does not mean, though, that they are misfits to the narrative.
When Ayef and Manny reach the most crucial point of their relationship, their assertions are a result of their vulnerabilities and apprehensions. Ayef’s sentiments are tied to the domestic and financial struggles of her family, a proof of being a casualty in a crumbling economy. Manny, on the other hand, rallies for his inclusion in Ayef’s world—that sense of belongingness he desperately seeks outside a family ruined by a father he can never be proud of.
An Inconvenient Love tells of affection in a world riddled by inconveniences. The lovers are neither bent on changing the world nor destined to perfectly beat the odds of romance. They are individuals who love, live, and dream. Their joys and sorrows reflect the frustrations and aspirations of a generation living through tough times.
When Ayef and Manny have each other on screen, what transpires is the kind of warmth that makes the watch memorable and convenient. Belle Mariano and Donny Pangilinan prove to be the beautiful actors that credibly play the roles. Belle is Ayef. Donny is Manny. As in real life, their characters exemplify the beauty their adoring fans live to see.
‘An Inconvenient Love’ is showing in cinemas nationwide.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
REDENTOR Lagrimas Lebantino is a published author of Language and Literature textbooks and has been an editor for more than a decade. He writes film reviews and volunteers as a facilitator for a counseling center.